Here are five keys for a Patriots win over the Chiefs today which would earn New England a spot in the AFC Championship game next weekend.
1. Slowing down the Chiefs defensive rush
The Chiefs have never been a highly powered offensive team. They have gotten the majority of their wins by forcing opponents to an average of just 17.9 points (3rd in NFL). Kansas City also had the 2nd to best 3rd down conversion percentage at 33%. The Chiefs were 4th (47) in sacks. Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton dialed up enough pressure to produce the league’s 2nd highest interception total (22). Cornerback Marcus Peters managed to rope in 8 interceptions which is the highest individual total in all of the NFL. The Patriots are extremely banged up at the offensive line position. They also have a ton of youth within the interior of their offensive line that is capable of being exposed by a veteran defensive front. If Sebastian Vollmer falls to injury again all bets are off. A short passing game, established running attack, and healthy Edelman should help keep Brady upright.
2. Make life miserable for Travis Kelce
The Chiefs have had Kelce and Maclin combine for 13 touchdown receptions in the regular season. 6 other players have had touchdown receptions and it totaled just over half of Kelce/Maclin combined (7). Maclin led the Chiefs with 8, while Kelce had 5. With the Maclin injury it is unlikely that Maclin can make a significant impact today. Much of the pressure and focus will be on Travis Kelce to produce/pick up the slack Maclin leaves behind. Since there is not a tremendous amount of wide receiver depth or skill, stopping Kelce is of paramount importance for the Patriots.
3. Work Edelman back into the offense and keep him healthy
One thing is certain in this matchup: Julian Edelman will be fired up and ready to play as much as an individual can be. However his competition level is not what is in question. How will the foot hold up? Has it completely healed? Is his conditioning and fitness level up to par? Edelman is undoubtedly one of the more important players again this postseason. If New England can get him back up to full speed it will open up more opportunities for Gronk; a scary thing for any opposing football team. If Edelman is healthy it will mean more short passing routes which will also take pressure off the offensive line/Brady.
— Julian Edelman (@Edelman11) January 16, 2016
4. Limit the Chiefs running game
Jamaal Charles went out for the year with a torn ACL long ago. Despite losing one of their most dynamic, talented players the Chiefs continued on to build an 11 game winning streak. Kansas City now uses a combination of Knile Davis, Charcandrick West, and Spencer Ware. Alex Smith was also second in the NFL at QB runs/scrambles for 1stdowns in the regular season (34). Setting and containing Smith’s edge with Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich will be vital. Hightower, Mayo, and Collins will need to stifle the Chiefs running game. If New England’s defense can keep Alex Smith from gaining yards on the ground while limiting the Chiefs running game they will be forced to throw downfield to unproven, mediocre targets.
5. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel
The Patriots have looked both damn good and really bad during their 2015 campaign. Most of their losses featured self inflicted mortal wounds. In Denver, Chris Harper muffed the punt that changed the entire momentum of that game. In New York, Belichick would curiously elect to kick rather than receive in overtime. Belichick also unsuccessfully attempted to run wildcat and flea flickers to beat the Jets. In the Eagles game, Bill decided to attempt a pooch kick up by two touchdowns which handed Philly great field position/momentum that led to the most disappointing loss of 2015. Against the Dolphins, it seemed as if the Patriots didn’t even attempt to play to their full potential. At face value the Patriots are a much better team than the Chiefs. Belichick needs to formulate a game-plan that doesn’t feature trick plays and gimmicks, put the game in the hands of Tom Brady and use the reinvigorated health of his offensive players to lead the Patriots to victory. No more messing around or trying to be cute. Let’s just play football.